Attorney general sues Lincoln University board over ouster

The Pennsylvania attorney general's office weighed in on a dispute over the leadership of one of a historically Black university near Philadelphia, filing suit against the board of trustees over the process that resulted in the ouster of the university president.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Saturday that the lawsuit argues the Lincoln University board violated notice and agenda requirements and refused to allow participation by members named by the commonwealth during the July 10 meeting during which the contract of president Brenda Allen wasn't renewed.

“My office has no position on who serves as president of Lincoln University, but we will take action to ensure the board follows the law,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Lincoln is a jewel of our Commonwealth’s heritage, and students, alumni, faculty and staff of the school that taught Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall must have confidence that their leadership complied with state law.”

The complaint said university bylaws require 10 days notice for a special meeting and bars discussion of topics not included in the notice, and argues that not enough notice was given and the meeting was said to discuss “new leadership" rather than removal of the president.

After members met privately for three hours, the board chair announced a 52% to 48% margin against negotiating a new contract with Allen, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Shapiro, however, said that with five commonwealth trustees not allowed to participate, the vote on renewing the university contract including Allen's appointment was tied 11-11, and judged to have failed. A new motion to appoint an interim president was approved.

Lincoln said the five members appointed separately by the state House and governor hadn't been seated after the coronavirus pandemic prompted cancellation of the board's regular meeting in April. They are to be properly seated at the next regular meeting scheduled Sept. 19, the university said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Allen, who had served as president of the Chester County university since 2017, sued the board Thursday, accusing members of having breached her contact and violated state law. She seeks an injunction declaring the action invalid and damages for “being denied her rightful position."

Supporters have credited Allen with boosting student retention and alumni contributions. More than 14,000 people signed a petition to keep her as president, the Inquirer reported.

Lincoln, a historically Black university in Oxford, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) southwest of Philadelphia, was founded in 1854 as the Ashmun Institute and was the first of the historically Black colleges and universities to grant degrees.

The Lincoln University Board of Trustees released the following statement to FOX 29.

"The Attorney General has launched a lawsuit against members of the Lincoln University Board of Trustees over the issue of several individuals appointed as Commonwealth Trustees separately by the House of Representatives and the Governor. The appointees were to fill commonwealth seats on the Lincoln University Board of Trustees that have been vacant for nearly two years.

The Board has publicly stated that the commonwealth appointees were originally set to be seated at the Annual Board Meeting in April. That meeting was canceled due to the state’s stay-at home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to the cancellation of the Board’s regular meeting in April due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the Governor’s appointment occurring after the date for such Annual Meeting, all of the commonwealth appointees will be properly seated by the Board in accordance with its standing procedures at its next Regular Meeting scheduled for September 19, 2020. The appointees in question have been acknowledged and been notified of the Board’s intent to properly seat them on that date.

Much has been written in regard to the appointees and there are a lot of inaccuracies in the press and in the Attorney General’s complaint. The actions of the Attorney General appear to be driven by a disgruntled member of the Board of Trustees who seeks to manipulate the Board’s decisions. As a member of the Board, it is our contention that NO LAWS have been violated and actions taken by the Board are consistent with its bylaws and standard practices. These practices are no different than those at Temple University, also a Pennsylvania commonwealth institution.

It is curious that the Attorney General chooses to go after this 166-year-old historically black institution, in the middle of a global pandemic, after years of inaction on vacant commonwealth seats on the Board; and at a time when the cries for social justice are rising from black communities from coast to coast.

Why Now? Why second guess and question the intelligence of this Board?"


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